Last week of April I got a phone call from Snapper. They were getting ready to deliver a New Zealand first technology in partnership with 2degrees, a NFC-based mobile payment solution with practical use: Snapper on your smartphone, branded 2degrees Touch2Pay, and wanted to reach the Geekzone community to show this new way of paying for things.
Wellingtonians in general have embraced Snapper with impressive numbers (although Snapper is not limited to Wellington only). Over 370,000 Snapper cards have been issued, generating more than 100 million transactions across over 1000 buses, 3000 taxis, and over 500 retailers in New Zealand.
In just under a week we contacted Geekzone users in Wellington inviting them to a mystery Q&A event. We had a great response and the 80 seats available were filled very fast. On the day we had 90% presence and people enjoyed drinks and nibbles while listening to Snapper explaining why they decided to do it and what steps were taken to design the Android app, LG told the audience the dirty tech bits behind the NFC technology and 2degrees showed how all this integrated into the mobile network (including SIM authentication/authorisation).
We also had a couple of LG Android smartphones ready to go with some preloaded credit to giveaway.
In the few days leading to the event we started a discussion where I asked people what they thought would be announced. That discussion ended up having 200 replies with 15,000 views . While some correctly guessed a NFC-based mobile payment solution, others provided great feedback with their wishful thinking on new products/services. I was told by 2degrees, LG and Snapper they were following the discussion closely. We now closed that discussion and opened a new one to discuss the Touch2Pay service.
I wish other tech companies in New Zealand reached out to our community like Snapper, 2degrees and LG did. It was fun and we had high attendance of interested people... You know how to contact me!
Apparently the problem with Skydrive content not being accessible from Windows Phone devices yesterday is now solved. It looks like for a window of six to eight hours (or even a bit more) Microsoft had some bad redirects that caused attempts to access documents stored on Skydrive to fail.
This only happened when accessing Skydrive from the dedicated Windows Phone app, but it worked fine from the Windows Phone Office Hub.
I have looked at both Skydrive and Google Drive aps and found that they worked practically the same when it comes to managing the files and transfers. However Skydrive gives me 25GB instead of Google Drive's 5GB and the Windows app gives me remote access to all drives of my desktop - very handy if I'm out and about and need anything that's not on Skydrive (music, videos, etc). Also because Google Drive's T&Cs are a "cloudy" business, with words that say customers grant use rights to all content uploaded so Google can use all that for their "product development".
Reading through some Geekzone discussions I've noticed people still don't know about some other cloud solutions and services, so here is a comprehensive comparison of a cloud-based storage and synchronization solutions for the consumer market.
Sorry to break it people, but it doesn't work like this. It seems you can only download images and sounds from Skydrive to your Windows Phone device. All those .docx, .xlxs, .pptx and .txt files you have? Forget about it. They won't download.
*sigh* Why is so hard for software companies to make Things That Just Work (TM)?
UPDATE: after six hours it's working now. Since I know of more people having this same problem, could it be that Microsoft's cloud service was overloaded? Or simply my 5GB uploads had to go through some process to be readable? Who knows. I'm sure moving to the cloud should be more assuring than this though.
At the end of the day, what you want is a faster loading web site that will help your company achieve an objective.
For example, when I started working to make Geekzone a faster web site, our metrics included reduce web page load time, increase number of repeat visitors, increased time spent on site and increased number of page views - we don't sell a "product", we sell advertising after all so those were the important metrics for us.
Using tools like WebPageTest allowed us to measure the time a web page takes to load in different parts of the world. Even though 40% - 45% of our traffic is New Zealand-based, we still have a large number of visitors coming from overseas (including the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and India).
A couple of years ago our average web page load time was around 10 seconds for a visitor coming from the US. By following through with changes in our database, backend scripts, hosting provider, CDN we managed to reduce the web page load time to around 6.5 seconds on average when measured from Dulles, VA.
With automatic web optimization software (in our case Riverbed Stingray Aptimizer) we managed to reduce the time even further to 4.5 s as you can see in the image below, captured from a WebPageTest run earlier today:
If you are in New Zealand our web page load times are even lower, on average 1.5 seconds for a complete page to be ready to be used.
In another post I will talk about each of the items we touched when improving performance on Geekzone - make sure to subscribe to my RSS feed. Of course if you run a web site and think a Web Performance Optimization project could help you improve metrics, please contact me and we can work on this.
Continuing my series of posts about Web Performance Optimization (WPO), here is another thought: use a Content Delivery Networks (CDN) to speed up web pages and save money.
Even though bits travel fast, it all comes down to distance and number of bits. The closer you are to your users, the faster your web pages will load. That's where CDNAs help us, web site owners. While a robust web site might have geographically distributed content servers for performance and redundancy, maintaining this infrastructure comes at a cost.
CDNs provide a balanced distribution platform that allows content providers to store resources closer to their clients, making everything a bit faster. Here at Geekzone we currently use MaxCDN, but played with Fastly and Amazon Cloudfront. We currently have mixed DNS and CDN solution (which I will expand on in another post).
CDNs can be used in many different ways. The most common are Push and Pull. With Push CDNs you are responsible for loading your web resources to their servers, while Pull CDNs will automatically retrieve your web resources from a nominated origin server when a request first comes in.
Below is the stats panel for one of our CDN configurations with MaxCDN, where you can see how the content is distributed through the nodes and how much data is used up every day:
And below you can see the traffic (in number of hits) including cache hits and non-cache hits:
Coming from New Zealand, where data traffic is usually one of the highest costs in a web site operation, CDNs have the side effect of helping web site owners save on traffic. You can see that our CDN serves something between 400 MB and 1.2 GB a day, depending on traffic, with 90% cache hits. This means 90% of the requests are served from the CDN caches directly, without ever reaching our servers.
CDN configuration can be as simple as just creating new DNS records pointing a resource domain to the CDN subdomain created for your specific configuration. If your web site doesn't currently use a separate domain for serving up those resources (images, scripts, CSS, static HTML) there are solutions that can automatically rewrite those when a page is requested.
When using a CDN it's important to make sure your web resources are correctly configured to appropriate cache expire and public caching. If this is not possible to configure in your server, there's always a setting on the CDN that will allow you to override settings from the original server with new default values.
In another post I will talk about latency - make sure to subscribe to my RSS feed. Of course if you run a web site and think a Web Performance Optimization project could help you improve metrics, please contact me and we can work on this.
Continuing my series of posts about Web Performance Optimization (WPO), here is a thought: focus on high impact web pages first. This might seem obvious when you read it, but from my experience most people don't actually put limits to a WPO project and over time the benefits are diluted.
The first thing to do is to identify possible candidates to a WPO project. In a previous project we found out one single script was hit with requests 80% of the time. We (the web site owner and myself) decided to concentrate efforts on this web page first.
Basically, we apply the Pareto Principle and concentrate our efforts on that page responsible for 80% of the total requests using only 20% of the overall time of a full WPO project, with more immediate results. We then have time to concentrate on the other 20% of pages which could take up to 80% of the project time, if needed.
Obviously if you have a page that is hit only a few times a day but still manages to bring the whole web site down, then this should be looked at too.
The tools of choice for this part of the project are web site analytics (Google Analytics is my favourite one - it's free!). Data needs to be collected for a while to help determine the exact focus of the sub project.
Once a web page is selected then a holistic approach takes place. Waterfall diagrams (I will talk about these in another post later) can be used to determine the balance of back end and browser side load times, helping determine which side needs more urgent attention. Scripts can be used to monitor events and report back with signals that can be used to determine specific areas causing slow rendering on the client side.
I will keep posting in this series - make sure to subscribe to my RSS feed. Of course if you run a web site and think a Web Performance Optimization project could help you improve metrics, please contact me and we can work on this.
For the last couple of years I worked on Geekzone to improve web performance, with great results. The thing that started me on this path was our limited computing resources at the time and a desire to use these resources in the best way possible. From there I found out more and more about Web Performance Optimization and accumulated some tricks that could help some of you out there.
There are so many variables in web performance that in most cases just adding more CPU power or memory won't necessarily speed up the user experience on the other side of the wire. That is because most of of the time spent by a web browser loading a web page is due to factors other than the server's processing capability. Steve Souders says 80% - 90% of the end-user response time is spent on the front end.
Any time a web page takes longer than a couple of seconds to load there is a chance the visitor will simply close the window or navigate away to another web site. In some cases this is reflected in lost sales. The faster your web site, the easier it is for customers to transact with your business.
While web site designers and developers can't control the line speed at the end, they can control what's loaded on the browser when their web pages are rendering. Being smart about it is how we implement web performance optimization.
There are of course things that can be done on the server side as well. Recently I was asked by a friend to find out why his retail web site was performing so badly, and why on peak time his Microsoft SQL server would just grind to a halt, most of the times requiring a few reboots daily. This obviously was something on the server side, not on the client side.
First I found out his server was running on a virtual environment with minimum memory, causing the database server to spend most of the time swapping things between memory and disk. I also looked on his Google Analytics reports and found 80% of the traffic was landing on a single script, which we agreed to concentrate the work on. I found things such as a "SELECT *" query over a table containing a few million records with a long "WHERE" clause and similarly long "ORDER BY" clause - and not a single index defined in the entire database. And this sort of query was used about ten times in that page alone.
Needless to say, working on that script was enough to practically solve the server side of the problem. And solving the server problem also improved revenue, since there were no more lost sales due to server crash, slow response times, etc.
But sometimes things are not that clear and the boundary between server and client performance is fuzzy. In some cases web and database servers are working just fine and a web page still takes a long time to load. That's where Web Performance Optimization projects come in.
I've created a new Web Performance Optimization category in my blog and I will start posting small tips and comments about tools I have used.
Of course if you run a web site and think a Web Performance Optimization project could help you improve metrics, please contact me and we can work on this.
A couple of things Windows Phone could do better:
- If I plug my Windows Phone to my PC and use Zune to search the marketplace for an app I have already purchased (but it's not on the handset for whatever reason - uninstalled, new handset, hard reset, whatever), then Zune does not offer a "Reinstall" button. The only option is "Cancel". It tells me I already bought the app, so it won't charge me again, but it's not smart enough to offer to reinstall. I have to go to the WindowsPhone.com website for that.
- Since Windows Live Mesh can sync up to 5GB to the cloud (in addition to the Skydrive storage), why can't Windows Phone see those files? I don't want to create files on Skydrive, but I don't mind synchronising from my PC to the cloud with Live Mesh since it's automatic and transparent.
Such small things that would make a huge difference.
What would you like to see implemented on Windows Phone?
Every few months I remember to post the Geekzone browser stats... This time (30 days through 23rd March 2012) I've noticed it was the first that Internet Explorer has dropped down to third place (worldwide visits), although still barely holding second place when it comes to New Zealand only visits.
Here is the worldwide chart (more than 500,000 visits), showing Google Chrome just ahead of Firefox and Internet Explorer in third place. The difference between those three browsers is so small, I would say they are in a tie:
And here is the New Zealand only chart (more than 250,000 visits), showing Google Chrome in first, followed by Internet Explorer and Firefox. Again the numbers are so close we could call this a tie.
A friend on Twitter (@slyall) asked about after hours and business hours stats. The reason for that is because many suspect the high number of Internet Explorer users could be concentrated on business who are slow to update their systems, either due to budgetary constraints or browser requirements when accessing old systems. So I created two segments: New Zealand Only Business Hours (more than 150,000 visits, 8am through 6pm) and New Zealand Only After Hours (more than 70,000 visits, from 6pm through midnight). Here are the two charts:
Now we can clearly see a significant drop in Internet Explorer usage, from 32.12% down to 22.51%. Chrome increases a little bit, Firefox seems almost still with a tiny movement, but Safari is the one that goes up more than the others.
Just for curiosity sake, here is the chart showing the Internet Explorer distribution, New Zealand only:
Obviously the Geekzone audience tend to be more tech savvy, but from my experience they are a good mix, representing all sorts of people - technical and non-technical. Some wouldn't know how to update their browsers, others would work in the IT area and do it all. I bet if other New Zealand publishers publicised their numbers (Trade Me for example), we would see a higher Internet Explorer and Safari (on Mac OS) usage than Chrome and Firefox, thanks to the more mainstream presence.
What do you think?